Don't end up in No Man's Land. This is a great term I just discovered. I don't know who coined this phrase, or if anyone knows who did. For people who make fitness, health, and training a lifestyle, this is really something to think about. This is a great term to describe that middle ground occupied by the average trainee or competitor. In terms of a workout, it can be used to describe an intensity level that's just hard enough to create a little burn, but not enough to be a truly meaningful, push the envelope kind of intensity. I imagine the vast majority of activity in gyms and in races takes place somewhere in no man's land. The term is fitting because if that's where you are day in and day out, you are likely going nowhere. Ask yourself why you're training. If you're going to take the time to do it, don't you want it to have some effect? Or are you content to just go through the motions, and remain in no man's land?
What's even more interesting is the science that supports this. Hours and hours of mediocre training, and I do mean training that feels moderately difficult, will not produce the effect of a single 4 minute tabata squat session. With very high intensity, we are putting peak stress on both aerobic and anaerobic capacities. The stimulus is enormous and the response is dramatic. Of course, keep in mind that you can't keep up this level of intensity for long, so we are talking about things like tabata intervals, or single explosive movements like those used by crossfit and olympic weightlifters, etc...or crossfit benchmark workouts, like Grace and Fran.
If you're in the middle of the pack in a race, then you're in no man's land. Those who decide "hey wait, there's another gear here" and shift up into the lead, are a special breed. I'm as guilty as anyone of spending too much time in this no man's land. Consider this quote:
As respected cycling journalist and coach Fred Matheny put it almost 15 years ago in an article in Bicycling: ‘NML (no man’s land) workouts provide a kinaesthetic sense of working hard but expose the rider to too much stress per unit gain. Instead most base training should be guilt-producingly easy, and the top end, high-intensity-training (HIT) should be very mentally hard, not sort of hard’ (4).
Now, unless you're specifically training for an endurance event like a 100 mile bike ride or a triathlon, I don't think you need to spend hours and hours doing the "guilt-inducingly easy" workouts to create that aerobic base. But the point to take away here is that intensity is king. If you can sustain the work level for an extended period of time, even if it seems hard, then it simply does not qualify as "high-intensity." If on the other hand, you want to stop immediately, now you're talking intensity.
So the next time you're pounding out a workout, ask yourself: "Am I in no man's land?"